Film biographies are like a form of cinematic karaoke. You watch an actor impersonate someone’s rhythm with moves and style matched. Although we know it isn’t the real thing, a close facsimile is usually enjoyable if the story or melody is strong. ‘Jackie’ carries its silver screen tune with ease. As with any in the genre, what is seen should be taken with a grain of salt. No one can truly know how a subject felt or did at any given time but ‘Jackie’ captures the essence of its subject with the style for which she was renowned.

After the assassination of American President John F Kennedy, his wife, First Lady Jackie (Natalie Portman), retreats to seclusion. Trying to cope with the aftermath of the terrible event, she resolves to maintain his legacy. Helped by his brother Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard), Jackie charts a course for a new future. With the constant glare of the media around, her actions are closely examined. Preserving the Kennedy name is one Jackie strives to do in spite of the naysayers determined to destroy all she and her husband built.

‘Jackie’ very much rests on Portman’s shoulders. Tasked with conveying the graceful determination of the subject, she equips herself admirably. You feel the genuine despair and strength driving her in the immediate storm of her husband’s death. In some ways she was an early media manipulator in her ability knowing what headlines were needed. That wasn’t a bad thing as she had to control the flow of information that could easily have been skewed. Her poise when dealing with what lay ahead after the assassination is expressed admirably in Portman’s hands.

The rest of ‘Jackie’ is hit and miss. Whilst the locations and integration of old and new footage are excellent, the story needs work. There are many repetitive scenes covering the same ground which only appear to exist to extend the run-time. The musical score is another issue. Although incredibly grand and unique to listen to, it often distracts from the screenplay’s points. Silence is often more golden than booming noise where viewers should feel the emotions than have them musically spoon-fed.

Despite aspects not matching the high quality performances, ‘Jackie’ nonetheless presents an interesting historical snap-shot. Elegant and generally engaging it doesn’t foul the next of movie biographies with a woman’s strength in a time of crisis laid bare in remarkable fashion.

Rating out of 10: 6

Collateral Beauty

Every year in America films are released around late December so they can qualify for awards season. Many pander towards award voters in order to grab a cherished Golden Globe or Academy award. Some movies are more shameless than others in infusing plenty of dramatic moments to tug on voter’s heartstrings. Such films are called ‘Oscar-bait’ – which ‘Collateral Beauty’ is. Overtly cynical than most, ‘Collateral Beauty’s woeful effort in award attention-seeking makes it one of the worst in recent memory.

Howard (Will Smith) is an advertising executive recovering from a great tragedy. Desperate to find closure, he writes letters to Love, Time and Death. Seeing their work colleague go off the emotional rails are Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena). Using this to their advantage in order to gain promotions, they hire actors to impersonate Love, Time and Death. Talking to these spiritual impersonators, Howard’s life is given new purpose amongst the spectral deception.

‘Collateral Beauty’ is a mean-spirited movie filled with selfish characters. This isn’t something that would endear itself to viewers and award deciders. Its allusions to the Frank Capra directed classic ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ don’t help with its sprinkling of fake sentiment making for tiresome viewing. The main point is the unbelievable story and lack of empathy between characters. Their relationships are poorly handled with various subplots unsatisfactorily explained.

The cast fail to convey any passion to their roles with Smith’s dramatic emoting eliciting little sympathy. It’s difficult having empathy for any of the characters as their actions are derived from pure selfishness than true humanity. This leads to not caring about what happens with the clunky direction not helping. New York’s landscape looks pretty and distracts from the turgid events. That’s one of the few saving graces from an un-memorably dull enterprise.

Using its glossy veneer to disguise its nasty underbelly, ‘Collateral Beauty’ is a deceptive beast. It’s a poor effort at ‘Oscar-baiting’ and one that hasn’t paid off. Next time perhaps Will Smith should make a good movie than appearing in badly written ones which may give him a chance at Oscar glory.

Rating out of 10: 2